Saturday, February 7, 2009
People sometimes say we’re living at a “post-Christian” moment. That’s supposed to describe the fact that Western nations have abandoned or greatly downplayed their Christian heritage in recent decades. But our “post-Christian” moment actually looks a lot like the pre-Christian moment. The signs of our times in the developed world—morally, intellectually, spiritually and even demographically—are very similar to the world at the time of the Incarnation.
The truth is, the challenges we face as Catholics today are very much like those facing the first Christians. And it might help to have a little perspective on how they went about evangelizing their culture. They did such a good job that within 400 years Christianity was the world’s dominant religion and the foundation of Western civilization.
Rodney Stark, the Baylor University social scientist, is an agnostic. He’s not a Christian believer. But he became intrigued by a couple of key questions. How did Christianity succeed? How was it able to accomplish so much so fast? In his book, “The Rise of Christianity,” he focuses only on the facts he can verify. And he concludes that Christian success flowed from two things: first, Christian doctrine, and second, people being faithful to that doctrine. Stark writes that: “An essential factor in the (Christian) religion’s success was what Christians believed. … And it was the way those doctrines took on actual flesh, the way they directed organizational actions and individual behavior, that led to the rise of Christianity.”
Or we can put it another way: the Church, through the Apostles and their successors, preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. People believed in that Gospel. But the early Christians didn’t just agree to a set of ideas. Believing in the Gospel meant changing their whole way of thinking and living. It was a radical transformation—so radical they couldn’t go on living like the people around them anymore.
The early Christians understood that they were members of a new worldwide family of God more important than any language or national borders. They saw the culture around them, despite all of its greatness and power, as a culture of despair, a society that was slowly killing itself. In fact, when we read early Christian literature, things like adultery and abortion are often described as “the way of death” or the “way of the (devil).”
Here’s the point: if the world of pagan Rome and its Caesars could be won for Jesus Christ, we can do the same in our own day. But what it takes is the zeal and courage to live what we claim to believe ...
Thursday, February 5, 2009
(There was once) a man who was crossing a heath in a wild country not far from the noise of the sea. The wind and the rain beat upon him, and it was very cold, so he was glad to see a light upon the heath a long way off. He made towards it and, coming into that place, found it to be a chapel where some twenty or thirty were singing, and there was a priest at the altar saying Mass at midnight, and there was a monk serving his Mass. Now this traveller noticed how warm and brilliant was the place; the windows shone with their colours, and all the stone was carved; the altar was all alight, and the place was full of singing, for the twenty or thirty still sang, and he sang with them ... But their faces he could not see, for the priest who said the Mass and the man who served the Mass both had their faces from him, and all in that congregation were hooded, and their faces were turned away from him also, but their singing was loud, and he joined in it.
He thought he was in fairyland. And so he was. For as that Mass ended he fell asleep, suffused with warmth, and his ears still full of music; but when he woke he found that the place was a ruin, the windows empty, and the wind roaring through; no glass, or rather a few broken panes, and these quite plain and colourless; dead leaves of trees blown in upon the altar steps, and over the whole of it the thin and miserable light of a winter dawn.
Gary Krupp, founder and president of the Pave the Way Foundation, an organization dedicated to bridging gaps between religions, affirmed that "the full story has not been told […]; the media got it wrong."
In a statement today from the foundation, he acknowledged the initial shock of the widely reported news "that Pope Benedict XVI lifted the ban of excommunication with the Society of St. Pius X and its four bishops."
Krupp observed: "The media often focuses on one action without researching the details. This omission has made headlines, fueled a controversy and promoted negativity."
He affirmed that the public Holocaust-denial of Bishop Richard Williamson, one of the reconciled prelates, seemed to imply an affront against Jewish-Catholic relations.
But, the Jewish founder explained that his organization researched the matter "in depth, and inquired with Vatican officials in Rome and knowledgeable experts in canon law, in order to have a clear picture of what was done and why it was done."
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
by Sir William Russell Flint
"Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament ... There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man's heart desires."
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Tarry no longer; for my soul lies at the gates of death.
I will arise and look forth for the morning of the grave.
I will go down to the sepulcher to see if morning breaks!
Lest the Last Judgement come & find me unannihilate
And I siez'd & giv'n into the hands of my own Selfhood.
'Little one who straight
has come down the heavenly stair.
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.'
- William Wordsworth
Monday, February 2, 2009
If repudiation of its past and its identity is all that Western civilization can offer, it cannot survive: it will give way to whatever future civilization can offer hope and consolation to the young and fulfill their deep-rooted human need for social membership. Citizenship, as I have described it, does not fulfill that need: and that is why so many Muslims reject it, seeking instead that consoling “brotherhood” (ikhwan) that has so often been the goal of Islamic revivals. But citizenship is an achievement that we cannot forgo if the modern world is to survive: we have built our prosperity on it, our peace and our stability, and—even if it does not provide happiness—it defines us. We cannot renounce it without ceasing to be.
What is needed is not to reject citizenship as the foundation of social order but to provide it with a heart. And in seeking that heart, we should turn away from the apologetic multiculturalism that has had such a ruinous effect on Western self-confidence and return to the gifts that we have received from our Judeo-Christian tradition.
The first of these gifts is forgiveness. By living in a spirit of forgiveness, we not only uphold the core value of citizenship but also find the path to social membership that we need. Happiness does not come from the pursuit of pleasure, nor is it guaranteed by freedom. It comes from sacrifice: that is the great message that all the memorable works of our culture convey. The message has been lost in the noise of repudiation, but we can hear it once again if we devote our energies to retrieving it. And in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the primary act of sacrifice is forgiveness. The one who forgives sacrifices resentment and thereby renounces something that had been dear to his heart.
The Koran invokes at every point the mercy, compassion, and justice of God. But the God of the Koran is not a lenient God. In His Koranic manifestation, God forgives sparingly and with obvious reluctance. He is manifestly not amused by human folly and weakness—nor, indeed, is He amused by anything. The Koran, unlike the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament, is a joke-free zone ...
Read all of his article, Forgiveness and Irony, here.
San Francisco’s actual Chief of Police now is an affirmative-action diminutive Chinese-American female from the accounting department who is the laughingstock of the police force. The rate of unresolved murder cases in San Francisco is so high that the city has tried, unsuccessfully, to solicit help by offering $100,000 rewards to people who would come forward with information.Enough said. My offering is the alternative for men of faith in the West to reclaim Marian chivalry. It may be lonely and difficult work, but at least the comradeship is excellent.
At a loss, the city’s leaders elected what else but a transgender person, Theresa Sparks, as President of the San Francisco Police Commission. Mr./Ms. Sparks’ qualifications for the job consist in his/her managing a vibrator company which was recently running a special under the slogan, “August is Anal Sex Month; 15% off select Anal Toys.”
Sunday, February 1, 2009
This shows how much the great philosopher knew and understood about the (fallen) human heart and the power of what René Girard calls "the primitive sacred." He knew that whipping up a frenzy of accusatory feelings among a mob must either not happen at all, or it must vent itself upon a victim, a scapegoat, so as to bring about catharsis.
Do Hollywood movie producers know this? Perhaps. There is certainly ample bloodletting at the local temple of film ... er, cineplex. Do politicians know this? Perhaps. Although where would politics be without the accusatory gesture? ("It's all his/her/their fault.")
The West is still sufficiently "Christ-haunted" for the time being to keep the cities from going up in flames. But, as a wise man once said, no one wants a scapegoat as much as the crowd in a time of crises; and we have plenty at present.
Be that as it may, note well that while some accusatory gestures come from those giving sermons and homilies in Christian houses of worship, by in large the message is one that can be followed with a fair degree of accuracy back to Our Lord. Almost no one has dared claim that He wanted to smite His "enemies" - a howler by all who know only a smattering of the New Testament. No one worries about the Presbyterians or Methodists hitting the streets after 11 o'clock worship.
Why? Because at some level we know that Aristotle foreshadowed in his wisdom what Our Lord lived and taught and continues to live and teach by His Holy Spirit. It is the antithesis of the Gospel - again, Girard's "primitive sacred" - to simply go out and destroy one's enemies rather than forgive them and try to get along.
The antithesis is this, as a matter of fact:
"Jews are the enemy of Allah," declared Ismael Gharaballi during a service in a mosque in Bielefeld, Germany. "This is not only my belief, but also Allah's conviction," the Palestinian imam and Hamas activist declared, waving his Koran in the air. The congregation of about 200 thundered, "Allahu Akbar!"The Scimitar imams who thrive on stoking the flames of the primitive sacred into a conflagration are plainly and simply mouthpieces not for a benevolent deity, but for the ancient gods of the blood. The same old same old of paganism. And that is and should be a concern not for interfaith goodie-two-shoes, but for any concerned for the continuation of the West.
Those who forget that the West gave us all we love most about civilization - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, even the grossly ignorant and forgetful "multiculturalism" that now oppresses Christian faith - forget that the Gospel of truth is what is in danger today.
Those who forget are like the birds of the air who make their nest in the Kingdom of God's mustard seed shrub and do not see those coming who would burn it to the ground.
To all men of good will, who see that Aristotle's warning is one that all people must heed, I say this: Do not listen to those who would seek evil upon other human beings. They are not of God, but of Satan and the dark gods who thirst for blood.